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Richard Corcoran, Ron DeSantis, Jose Oliva attend Koch brothers retreat in Colorado Springs

Three of Florida’s top conservative lawmakers — including two potential Republican candidates for Governor — attended a Colorado retreat this weekend hosted by the influential Koch network.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and state Rep. Jose Oliva are listed among the big-name Republican politicians and donors at a three-day event held this weekend in Colorado Springs.

Presenting the conference is the Seminar Network, one of the satellite organizations of billionaires Charles and David Koch. The goal of the weekend is to strategize ahead of the 2018 election cycle.

In January, at a similar gathering in California, Seminar announced the Koch organization will invest as much as $400 million in the 2017-18 election cycle, up from about $250 million spent in the 2016 campaign. The spending boost, according to The Washington Post, makes it clear “they intend to deal with [Donald] Trump and congressional Republicans as they have every other administration — which could mean an impending confrontation with GOP leaders.”

“This weekend our focus will be on how to expand opportunity for those most in need and applying the principles of a free and open society to take on some of our nation’s biggest challenges,” said Seminar Network co-leader Mark Holden in a statement to The Denver Post. Holden also serves as general counsel for Koch Industries.

Held in the exclusive Broadmoor resort at the base of Pikes Peak, the annual event draws hundreds of the nation’s top conservative donors and marquee Republicans.

At last year’s Colorado Springs Koch event, the featured guest was U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan. This weekend, the guest list includes Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas, Matt Bevin of Kentucky, Doug Ducey of Arizona, and Eric Greitens of Missouri. Also in attendance were such Republican heavyweights as U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, Corey Gardner, Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz.

In addition, Vice President Mike Pence — a noted Koch ally — stopped by Colorado Springs Friday for a series of fundraisers. The following day, a motorcycle cop was injured in a crash escorting Pence’s motorcade to the airport.

With Corcoran and DeSantis mingling among the GOP elite in Colorado, it only adds fuel to speculation on their future ambitions — most notably in the Florida Governor’s race.

In May, Corcoran launched a new political committee, Watchdog PAC, which some speculate could help fund a campaign for Governor in 2018.

Americans for Prosperity Florida, the state chapter of the Koch-funded activist network, had been big supporters of Corcoran’s push in the Florida House in 2017 to end a pair of Gov. Rick Scott‘s favored job incentive programs, which they called “corporate welfare.”

“Those are the only two choices — Governor or not run for office,” the Land O’Lakes Republican said about his new fundraising arm to the Tampa Bay Times in April. “If I can’t raise the money, I can’t raise the money, and if I raise the money and I don’t want to run for governor, I don’t run for governor.”

At the same time, DeSantis is also hearing rumblings calling him to run.

The Miami Herald reported in April that the conservative group Madison Project, which backed the Ponte Verde Beach Republican’s short-lived U.S. Senate campaign in 2016, issued a statement urging DeSantis to consider a bid for Governor. The declaration appeared on The Resurgent, a popular conservative website by political commentator Erick Erickson.

On April 12, The Resurgent ran results from a poll, conducted by Republican pollsters WPA Intelligence, showing DeSantis could fare well statewide against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is now raising money in his own race for Governor.

“While DeSantis may trail Putnam at this early date,” post said, “with 52 percent of voters undecided — and 51 percent not knowing who he is — this race is wide-open.”

Corcoran spokesperson Fred Piccolo suggested not to read too much into the Speaker’s appearance at the Colorado event. It was simply to honor Florida’s recent conservative legislative wins.

“The Speaker is a conservative,” Piccolo told FloridaPolitics.com. “The gathering was a chance to share the conservative successes we’ve had in Florida and get ideas for the future.”

Jacksonville Bold for 6.16.17 — Clique

Despite ideological differences, the people in a given legislative process tend to bond — and a vivid example was rendered this week when a gunman took shots at a Congressional baseball practice.

One Northeast Florida Republican, as you’ll see below, was close to being part of the wave of shots that led to the injury of Rep. Steve Scalise and others.

Despite the acrimonious tone in national politics, Republicans and Democrats both understand their shared reason for being in office: love of country, as all the public statements said.

Moments of a unity of purpose, however, are fleeting. Especially given how high the stakes are nationally right now, with a President prone to unexpected actions and upturning established precedents.

That said, we see other examples of unity — currently, Gov. Rick Scott is barnstorming the state for mutual admiration rallies with State Reps. Who called that a few months ago?

Ultimately, politics is a game of shared purpose. The means to achieve ends diverge, as do the donors. But the reality is that governmental bodies succeed or fail as much on the ability to coalesce internally as any external factor.

Close call for Ron DeSantis

Rep. DeSantis narrowly missed being part of Wednesday’s apparently targeted shooting of GOP congressmen, he related after the incident.

The Marineland Republican told FOX Business Network hours after the shooting that the “guy … walked up [to him and colleague Jeff Duncan] … Asking whether it was Republicans or Democrats out there.”

Ron DeSantis was a highly sought guest in the wake of Wednesday’s incident.

DeSantis continued: “we left about ten after 7. I think shots began you know within 3-5 minutes after that.

“We reported to police that there was a gentleman that confronted us when we were going to our car, and he wanted to know whether it was Republicans or Democrats that were out there. We said it was Republicans and he kind of started walking to the field.

“I don’t know if that was the guy, but I think it’s important to put that information out there and it was a little bit different than someone would do that. He was really interested in wanting to know who was out there.”

John Rutherford on House Judiciary Committee

Former Jacksonville Sheriff Rutherford, a Capitol Hill freshman, was appointed to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Rutherford is “excited” about the appointment “to a strong committee focused on upholding the Constitution,” per a statement from his office.

John Rutherford prioritizes the “rule of law” on Judiciary.

“As a former Sheriff, I have committed my life to strengthening the justice system in Northeast Florida, and I am grateful for this opportunity to support the rule of law across our nation,” Rutherford said.

Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte spoke favorably of his fellow Republican also.

“As a former law enforcement officer and sheriff of Duval County, Florida, Congressman Rutherford brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the Committee. His expertise on our criminal justice system makes him particularly well suited to serve on the Judiciary Committee. I look forward to working with John to advance our pro-growth agenda, focused on growing the American economy and ensuring that our laws are efficient, fair and enforced,” Goodlatte said.

It is Rutherford’s third committee: he also is on Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.

Divisions in D.C. ‘frustrating’ Rutherford

Rutherford, new to D.C., told Roll Call he was surprised by divisions in the GOP caucus itself this week.

“I think what’s probably surprised me most is the differences within the Republican caucus. You think that everybody comes from the same experience and background. In some places, I’d be a staunch conservative, and in other places of the country, I’d be a moderate. It’s interesting to see how that works in the family,” Rutherford said.

The family, said Rutherford, could be more unified: “to come from the executive side, or at least what feels like the executive side, to the legislative branch, is a little frustrating because I’m used to, as a sheriff, I say, ‘Take the hill’ and my team would come together and take the hill.”

A former House Speaker likened the job to ‘herding cats.’ John Rutherford would agree.

“Heck, they’d even take a bullet to take that hill because they believe in something bigger than themselves. Up here, the speaker says, ‘Take the hill,’ and somebody says, ‘We’ll take ‘that’ hill ‘[indicating a different hill].”

Speaker Paul Ryan, Rutherford noted, “said one time that being the speaker is like walking through a graveyard — you’re above a lot of people but they ain’t listening to you. That’s been an interesting situation.”

Al Lawson files bill to protect Social Security solvency

Rep. Lawson, along with Democratic co-sponsors, filed a bill this week to protect Social Security until 2049.

“Social Security plays a critical role in our economy as it provides for over two-thirds of our nation’s retirees, and provides financial security to millions of disabled workers and their children,” said Rep. Lawson.

For Al Lawson and Dems, protecting Social Security is a winning issue. Where’s the House GOP on this one?

“However, as the program is currently operating, the Social Security Trust Fund will be depleted by 2034. That’s why I’m proud to introduce the Social Security for Future Generations Act of 2017, along with 17 co-sponsors and support from six organizations, including Social Security Works and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare,” Lawson added.

Bad motion rising for Corrine Brown?

Count attorney Anthony Suarez — who represents former Brown co-defendant Ronnie Simmons — as skeptical of Brown’s motions for acquittal and a new trial.

“I’ve examined the motions and believe they’re not strong enough because they don’t cite a lot of case law,” said Suarez. “They’re not going to be successful.”

Anthony Suarez, like Corrine Brown’s lawyer James Smith, is better known in the 407 than the 904.

Simmons struck a plea deal with the feds in February, pleading guilty on two counts, with his sentencing contingent on substantial cooperation with the feds.

Predicating Brown’s motion for a new trial was a claim that the juror who got bounced because he was compelled in decision-making by the Holy Spirit was removed erroneously. And the motion for acquittal was predicated on essentially re-litigating the trial, to again make the case that Brown was Simmons’ patsy — a case that didn’t fly with the jury the last go-round.

Northeast Florida Fundraising Roundup

Though Rep. Paul Renner’s political committee was the clubhouse leader in Northeast Florida fundraising in May with $261,500, donors didn’t shy away from other committees and candidates.

Below are those who have reported thus far with May numbers.

Among committees of note: Lenny Curry’s “Build Something That Lasts” brought in $27,000. Sen. Rob Bradley‘s “Working for Florida’s Families” brought in $20,000 (keeping it over $400,000 on hand). And “Pledge This Day,” Rep. Jay Fant‘s committee devoted now to his run for Attorney General, brought in just $9,000 in May.

On the hard money front, Fant did better, with $79,575 of new funding; of that sum, $8,000 came from Fant and $3,000 from the committee.

The Fants appear delighted with their first month’s haul.

Sen. Aaron Bean brought in $3,500 of new money, bringing him to just over $20,000 on hand. Rep. Clay Yarborough‘s $6,100 of May money gives him over $14,000 on hand to defend a safe Republican seat in House District 12. on Jacksonville’s Southside.

In HD 17, St. Johns’ Rep. Cyndi Stevenson saw $750 of new money. In HD 24, Rep. Renner saw $2,500 in hard money, with all the action on the committee level.

State Reps make up with Rick Scott

Break up to make up? The joint appearance of three State Representatives hammered by Gov. Scott during the regular session in Jacksonville Beach Tuesday reveals that politics is a transitory business.

Reps. Jason Fischer, Cord Byrd, and Travis Cummings showed at the Governor’s rally, and all had glowing things to say.

ProTip: When appearing with Rallyin’ Rick Scott, make sure your blue shirts match.

Byrd discussed the transformational education bill. Fischer quipped that “the Governor signed most of the budget into law.” And Cummings?

“The Governor vetoed a project or two of mine, but that’s OK,” Cummings said, given the need for tourist funding via VISIT Florida — a remarkable shift in position.

One of those projects was big for Jacksonville: $15M in money for septic tank removal that didn’t make the cut.

We asked Cummings about the anomaly of being feted by a Governor who just months back aimed robocalls at him.

“Politics is a strange business,” Cummings said.

GrayRobinson talks Tallahassee

The Jax Daily Record offered a fascinating look into GrayRobinson’s state lobbying team, as it prepared for “extra innings,” via the Special Session.

This week, the lobbyists had a “panel wrap-up” of the regular Legislative Session, flush with interesting quotes.

GrayRobinson panelists served up real talk about the Legislative Session this week.

This from one panelist, shareholder Chris Carmody: “The House gets in line and takes orders from the top. The Senate is more a group of individuals.”

And this, regarding Rick Scott’s active veto pen, which seemed most targeted at legislators who bucked his call for economic incentives during the spring.

“There’s no doubt the governor didn’t hold back his frustration on certain House votes,” Carmody said.

As seen above, at least three of the legislators made their peace with the veto pen.

JaxPort, City Councilors talk dredging costs

There are knowns and known unknowns when it comes to dredging the St. Johns River, reported the Florida Times-Union this week.

“The city’s share of the cost for deepening the St. Johns River for cargo ships could be as high as $150.7 million or as low as $47 million, according to scenarios for how to pay for the $484 million project,” writes David Bauerlein.

As deepening approaches, cost projection ranges widen.

Hopes are that the city will see federal money defray much of the estimated $484M cost, and these hopes are bolstered by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who told us about his trip to DC last week.

Trump, Cabinet officials, and staffers were “soliciting ideas from states and cities on how to get things moving,” Curry said.

“Relationships are evolving,” Curry added.

Katrina Brown ‘no comment’ on default suit

Councilwoman Brown is title manager for two companies subject to a default motion from the city for incentive funds, a $210K clawback for creating zero jobs since grants and loans in 2011. What did she have to say about it this week?

Regarding a town hall this week, she wasn’t worried about questions: “They won’t be able to bring it up,” Brown said.

No, Katrina Brown isn’t ducking questions. She just has a microphone allergy.

She didn’t want media questions either.

“I continue to tell you no comment. You can ask me a thousand times and I would still say no comment,” Brown said.

Luckily for Brown, the companies are LLCs. And this is Jacksonville, where a certain amount of lagniappe goes into the sauce.

The Feds may feel differently about the SBA loan though.

Katrina Brown has a challenger

2019 is just around the corner in Jacksonville politics, as Diallo Sekous challenge to Katrina Brown indicates.

Sekou, a community activist, thinks Brown has flopped as a counselor.

“The people deserve better than what’s been ‘sitting and not sitting’ in that seat,” Sekou said.

Diallo Sekou and Lenny Curry size each other up, with Katrina Brown in between them.

“This district is in need of serious economic development and restructuring to help create a better situation than what’s been taking place for the last 50 years,” Sekou added.

Katrina Brown’s entropy, Sekou said, isn’t helping.

“There’s nothing being done that’s impactful or sustainable. Her first two years are things the last councilperson set in place, or the mayor has set forth. District 8 cannot be seen as just ‘some area.’ It is in serious need and requires a great deal of attention, and by missing half of the [City Council’s] meetings she’s showing the concern the council person has for her district.

Sekou faces challenges. Brown will have support from the public-sector unions and other sources, and Sekou will have to run a grassroots campaign.

Gaff Gaffe?

Katrina Brown’s BFF on Council, Reggie Gaffney, has some issues of his own.

Community Rehabilitation Center — best known for its cameo appearances in the Corrine Brown trial and a Medicaid overbilling scandal — is back in the news this week.

The subject this time: a late-May whistleblower lawsuit in Florida’s 4th Circuit, filed by an employee who alleges that she was “unlawfully terminated” by the nonprofit … after she was allegedly exposed to risk from HIV-positive clients without proper training and licensure. [Complaint against CRC].

Reggie Gaffney took a council seat in 2015. His most interesting coverage has been nonlegislative though.

When she went to Gaffney for recourse, she was frustrated, and told by a superior that he would say anything “to get you out of his face.”

She was fired soon after that, and the case has been filed in Florida’s 4th Circuit.

Big rip-off Down Under

Despite the efforts of Florida politicians ranging from both Senators to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, it appears that an Australian bank may get away with stealing $44M from an energy company with Jacksonville ties: APR Energy — as an Aussie kangaroo court sided with the bank Down Under over the foreign property owner Thursday.

In early 2014 APR leased tens of millions of dollars’ worth of U.S.-manufactured General Electric Co. turbines and other equipment to Forge Group, which went bankrupt weeks later.

APR still owned the equipment, and the lease stipulated the equipment would be returned. However, ANZ seized the equipment, exploiting bad Australian law.

APR can get the equipment back — after three years of depreciation — by posting a $44M line of credit to the bank.

Money lacks personhood, yes. But this is a hostage crisis, and a very real provocation to Jacksonville, Floridian and American interests.

Former Clay schools Superintendent Charlie Van Zant Jr. cleared of ethics violation

The Florida Commission on Ethics cleared former Clay County Schools Superintendent Van Zant of accusations by a former high school principal. Former Keystone Heights Junior/Senior High School Susan Sailor accused Van Zant of plagiarizing her research to get a professional certification resulting in a pay raise.

Charlie Van Zant, recently cleared of plagiarism by the Florida Ethics Commission.

Sailor accused Van Zant of taking her research to produce a paper without attribution to earn a leadership certification from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. That certification led to a pay raise for Van Zant, an elected official with a salary set by the state.

The Florida Times-Union reports that the ethics commission determined there was no probable cause to believe Van Zant violated state law by using public resources to receive the certification.

For Jacksonville, Donald Trump means White House access

Trump barely carried Duval County in 2016. Yet, for Jacksonville power brokers, the Trump era has meant access to the White House. The most recent manifestation of that, reports AG Gancarski, was just this week, as a JAX Chamber delegation was received by one of the more influential people in Trump’s orbit: Omarosa Manigault.

Manigault has a Jacksonville connection. She recently married Pastor John Newman, and she is spending many weekends here in Duval County. (Newman was also at the White House event).

Kellyanne Conway visits the JAX Chamber delegation.

Marty Fiorentino, of the Fiorentino Group, has done significant work already with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao — a relationship worth its weight in gold as Jacksonville’s crumbling infrastructure may get a restorative reprieve from the Trumpian infrastructure plan.

Susie Wiles, as campaign chair during the stretch run, arguably won Florida for Trump, rescuing a Sunshine State operation that couldn’t get out of its own way. The president and his staff won’t forget that.

Fiorentino, Wiles, Manigault: no one would have predicted that troika as having a direct line to the executive branch in 2016, when Trump’s political obituary was written daily as he battled Hillary Clinton.

Legislative staffing merry-go-round 

Via Lobby ToolsOff: Garrett Mann has stopped being the district secretary for Jacksonville Republican State Rep. Jason Fischer.

What’s Aaron Bean doing this week?

Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Bean will be the keynote speaker at the Jacksonville PACE Center for Girls graduation and receive PACE’s Believing in Girls award in recognition of his leadership in the Legislature. The event begins 10 a.m. at the JU Swisher Theatre, 2800 University Boulevard North in Jacksonville.

On Tuesday, June 20, Bean (will address participants of the 74th Session of the Florida American Legion Boys State leadership program. The event begins 1:40 p.m. at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, 505 W Pensacola Street in Tallahassee.

UF Health intensive care unit honored for nursing excellence

The UF Health Jacksonville medical intensive care received a Silver Beacon Award from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses for improved patient care for some of Jacksonville’s sickest patients.

“We care for adult patients with complex medical conditions requiring advanced treatment modalities, so we see some of the worst cases,” said Jackqulynne Stratton, RN, nurse manager of the MICU. “Patients admitted to our unit often require complex assessment, high-intensity therapies and interventions, and continuous supervision.”

With 28 beds in the MICU, patients are transferred there from the Emergency Department and Post Anesthesia Care Unit after surgery. The unit also regularly attends to patients transferred from other areas of the hospital.

“We typically work 12-hour shifts three days a week and an on-call shift once a month,” Stratton said. “also, we have to complete mandatory continuing education courses and rely heavily on our specialized knowledge, skills and experience. We also work hard to provide a nurturing and healing environment for our patients and their families.”

Jumbo Shrimp celebrates ‘You might be the Father’s Day’ by giving pregnancy tests

If being named the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp was not enough to garner attention, the minor league baseball team adds something special to its regular Thirsty Thursday promotion — You Might Be the Father’s Day.

“You’ll know if you need to return for Sunday’s Father’s Day game,” with “an evening filled with suspense, intrigue and manila envelopes.”

In honor of Father’s Day, the Florida Times-Union reports that the Jumbo will distribute free pregnancy tests at Thursday’s game.

“So you’ll know if you need to return for Sunday’s Father’s Day game,” the Shrimp website says. “It will be an evening filled with suspense, intrigue and manila envelopes.”

Unusual promotions like this, a staple of minor league baseball, has made its mark on the former Jacksonville Suns — so far this season, General Manager Harold Craw told the Times-Union, the team averages about 5,600 fans a game, an increase of 1,500 over last season. But Thirsty Thursdays are the team’s third most popular day, after Friday and Saturday.

Armada break historic losing streak with stunning 4-1 win in Indianapolis 

The Jacksonville Armada FC said goodbye to its winless history against Indy Eleven with a club record 4-1 win in Indianapolis Saturday, reports Kartik Krishnaiyer. The Armada’s win keeps them on the heels of Miami FC atop the NASL Spring Season table.

“Indy [is] a top team,” said Armada FC head coach Mark Lowry. “Even at 3-1 and 4-1, I couldn’t relax. They have a lot of weapons on the field and credit to those guys; they didn’t stop.”

Jack Blake opened the scoring for the Armada only four minutes into the game. Taking a penalty after Derek Gebhard was fouled, Blake’s initial shot was deflected off Indy goalkeeper Jon Busch, but Blake was quick to find the rebound and the back of the net.

“We have to keep our wits about us, staying aware to be disciplined and do our job.” — Armada Coach Mark Lowry

Indy Eleven was able to equalize six minutes later when 2016 NASL leading scorer Éamon Zayed headed the ball in past Caleb Patterson-Sewell following a corner.

Both sides then struggled to convert an opportunity until the 41st minute when Gebhard ran the ball down. After meeting fierce defense, he sent the ball to J.C. Banks, who found the space to get it in and put the Armada back into the lead.

An altercation in first half stoppage time led to a yellow card given to Blake and Indy’s Lovel Palmer being ejected from the match. The teams went into halftime with Armada FC leading by one goal and Indy being down to 10 men.

Banks kept the momentum going into the second half and netted his second goal in the 50th minute. Following a corner kick, he found himself in front of the net to tap in a shot fired by Jemal Johnson around the 18-yard line.

The final goal for the Armada FC came in the 60th minute by Gebhard. Johnson was there again with the assist and sent the ball toward the net. It then only took one touch by Gebhard to give Armada the fourth goal.

“They put us under a good bit of pressure but luckily we had a good lead before we lost our goalkeeper,” said Lowry.

Patterson-Sewell was ejected in the 68th minute from the match after a handball outside the penalty area. With both teams down to 10 men, Jemal Johnson was subbed out so Kyle Nasta could fill the goalkeeper position.

Nasta held strong right after taking the pitch in his NASL debut. He immediately faced a free kick but saved the ball by knocking it out. Five more shots were sent toward the goal, but he saved each one and kept Indy Eleven from notching another goal.

“[Nasta] went in and made some great saves,” said Lowry. “He showed the composure, and we believe in him. In terms of shot-stopping, he’s fantastic.”

The Armada victory was the first over Indy Eleven in Indianapolis, and the second loss Indy faced at home this season. The wins secured Jacksonville’s second place seat and set the stage for another top-of-the-table battle against the Miami FC Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Ricardo Silva Stadium in Miami. If the Armada win, they will jump to within two points of Miami FC atop the NASL standings.

Meanwhile, at Patton Park, the Armada’s U-23 team beat Boca Raton FC 4-0. The win allowed the Armada U-23 to leapfrog Boca Raton into fourth place in the NPSL Sunshine Conference Standings. In a game largely controlled by the home team, Boca Raton hung around until the dying minutes when a Ciaran McKenna brace, the second scored a floating finish of world-class quality sunk the hopes of the visitors.

Ron DeSantis on Morning Joe: shooter may have been beyond change

Florida’s U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, a third-baseman on the Republican’s baseball team who encountered James Hodgkinson moments before the Illinois Democratic activist shot up the practice field, said Thursday he was skeptical that any changed rhetoric would have stopped the shooter.

Appearing on the Morning Joe TV show on MSNBC, DeSantis recounted again, as he did Wednesday, how he and U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina were finished practicing at the Alexandria, Va., park, and in a car, ready to go back to Washington, when they were approached by a man they later identified as Hodgkinson, and that he asked them if there were Republicans or Democrats on the field.

DeSantis, of Ponte Vedra Beach, said he and Duncan had no idea that Hodgkinson was bent on a shooting rampage that would critically wound their colleague U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and wound four others before he was shot dead by law enforcement at the scene. They did not see a gun, and left before it began, DeSantis said.

On Morning Joe, DeSantis characterized Hodgkinson as a “bad guy” full of “virulence and hatred,” and expressed doubt that any changes in the heat of political rhetoric would have changed him or others like him.

“I think we’ll have to see whether this event is indicative of any larger issue. This is a bad guy. I  think clearly he had a lot of hate and rage building up, and he decided to attempt a mass murder,” DeSantis said. “And whether he was caught up in the overall climate or not… I’m a little bit pessimistic that anything much is going to change.”

DeSantis said he received a call in his Congressional office afterwards in which someone praised the shooting and declared hope that President Donald Trump would be next. He said a colleague received an email that stated, “One down, 217 to go.”

The congressman representing Florida’s 6th District – a candidate for a while last year for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, and rumored to be considering a run for Florida governor – said divided political rhetoric has long fueled America’s policy debates, to good ends.

“I look around here: we do have tough debates, but I’m not sure that if Congress thinks if a little bit of the debate is made a little bit more civil, that it’s going to change a guy like that. I’m just skeptical that would make a huge difference,” DeSantis said, then added, “Not saying we shouldn’t do it; but this guy clearly was troubled.”

Ron DeSantis describes ‘strange encounter’ with man before congressional baseball shooting

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis described a “strange encounter” Wednesday with a man in the parking lot of the congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia.

The encounter occurred moments before shots fired, injuring Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Scalise was shot in the hip and is in stable condition after surgery. Some security team members were also wounded.

The North Florida Republican told FOX Business Network hours after the shooting that the “guy … Walked up to us … Asking whether it was Republicans or Democrats out there.”

DeSantis continued: “I had already taken ground balls, hit. Jeff Duncan, who I ride with, from South Carolina, he had done. So, I … and I was actually at third base he was at short. We were just shagging balls. He was at second.

“I told Jeff, hey, we got to get on the road so we beat traffic, so we left about ten after seven. I think shots began you know within 3-5 minutes after that.

“We reported to police that there was a gentleman that confronted us when we were going to our car and he wanted to know whether it was Republicans or Democrats that were out there. We said it was Republicans and he kind of started walking to the field.

“I don’t know if that was the guy, but I think it’s important to put that information out there and it was a little bit different than someone would do that. He was really interested in wanting to know who was out there.”

Police say the gunman, who opened fire with a rifle, is in custody.

Dennis Ross is on GOP congressional baseball team, but wasn’t at practice where shots were fired

Polk County Congressman Dennis Ross is one of four members of the Florida GOP delegation on the baseball team attacked by a gunman Wednesday morning in Alexandria, Virginia, but he wasn’t at today’s practice.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot, and multiple congressional aides were also hit by a gunman with a rifle who opened fire at a GOP baseball practice. Scalise is reported to be in stable condition.

Five people were “transported medically” from the scene, Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown said; however, it was unclear how many people had been shot.

“Cindy’s and my thoughts and prayers are with Whip Scalise, the staff, the Capitol Police officers, and the family and friends of those hurt,” Ross said in a statement. “Our deep appreciation goes out to the Capitol Police and local law enforcement officers for their protection.”

A spokeswoman for Ross said the representative did not attend practice this morning and was doing fine.

Florida Republicans Matt Gaetz, Tom Rooney and Ron DeSantis also play on the team.

DeSantis, who represents Florida’s 6th Congressional District, says he had a “very strange” encounter in the parking lot with someone who wanted to know if they were “Republicans” or “Democrats” playing baseball.

DeSantis was leaving the field with Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina with a man approached them.

“As I was getting into the car with Duncan, a guy came up to us and asked if it was Republicans or Democrats out there,” DeSantis told Fox News. “It was a little odd. He was not carrying anything at the time. There was no one that was obviously walking around with a rifle.”

Report: Top Ron DeSantis supporter contributes $500K to state political committee

A top supporter of Rep. Ron DeSantis has contributed $500,000 to a state-level political committee that could be used to help fund a gubernatorial bid.

POLITICO Florida reported that Frederick Sontag contributed $500,000 to Fund for Florida’s Future, a state-level political committee, on May 5. The committee, which was required to report all contributions it received in May by Monday, received $535,000 in contributions last month.

Sontag is the founder of Spring Bay Companies, a Ponte Vedra Beach private equity firm focused on technology investments, and has a history of supporting DeSantis. POLITICO Florida reported that in 2016 Spring Bay Capital, a company owned by Sontag and affiliated with Spring Bay Companies, gave $500,000 to the Fighting for Florida Fund, a super PAC backing DeSantis.

DeSantis is believed to be mulling a 2018 gubernatorial bid. If he runs, he’ll need a massive war chest. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has $10 million in the bank. Sen. Jack Latvala and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are also considering a run.

Did Republican state and national leaders mail in their Pulse appearances?

In one of the more biting moments in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting,” mathematician Gerald Lambeau, played by Stellan Skarsgård, apologizes to his old friend, psychologist Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams, for having missed the funeral of Sean’s wife.

“I got your card,” Sean snapped, not at all disguising his anger.

Did we just see state and national Republicans mail in [or tweet in] their condolences and best wishes for Orlando’s one-year observation of the Pulse mass-murder that killed 49 and tore out the heart of a community?

Orlando is increasingly becoming a Democratic stronghold, but plenty of Republicans still thrive in Central Florida, and plenty get elected, and the area is worth fighting for. The local GOP contingent was well represented, by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, several county and city commissioners, several state lawmakers and others. But, except for Democrats U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Val Demings and Darren Soto, who all spoke at one event or another event, none of the state and national political leaders made much of an appearance at Orlando’s Pulse activities.

There’s a real chance state and national Republican leaders weren’t asked to come, discouraged to come, or just knew that their appearances would be, at best, awkward. There has been widespread criticism that too many of them just never fully acknowledged the pain in Orlando was both about a terrorist attack and about the biggest hate crime against gays in American history.

And Monday’s commemorations all were intimate, mostly involving only those public figures who had been there with Orlando throughout.

Some Republicans tried to do something.

Gov. Rick Scott was the lone state or national leader who came to Orlando, but it was a stealth appearance, not announced in advance, and apparently without any remarks. He stopped for a private breakfast at the Orlando Police Department headquarters, and then for an unannounced brief visit to the Pulse nightclub Monday morning, essentially a photo-op. He did not attend any of the major events, and he did not let anyone know he was stopping by Pulse, not even Pulse owner Barbara Poma.

Marco Rubio took to the floor of the Senate Monday evening and made an emotional Pulse speech, full of very personal observations, and acknowledgment that, whatever else the tragedy was, it also was an attack on Orlando’s gay community.

“Obviously the attack was personal for the 49 families with stories of their own and of course the countless others who were injured. I know it was personal to the LGBT community in Central Florida,” Rubio said on the Senate floor. “As I said Pulse was a well-known cornerstone of the community, particularly for younger people. And as I said earlier This was deeply personal for Floridians and the people of central Florida, and I’ll get to that in a moment because I’m extraordinarily proud of that community.”

And he and Nelson introduced a resolution Monday in the Senate to commemorate Pulse.

Murphy, Demings, and Soto also introduced a Pulse remembrance resolution in the House of Representatives, and also spoke on the floor Monday. And all three found time to speak in Orlando, to Orlandoans, first.

Unlike Nelson, Murphy, Soto or Demings, Rubio was nowhere to be seen in Orlando during the observations that began at 1 a.m. and ended at midnight Monday.

Others in state and national GOP mailed or tweeted it in, and continued to miss the point that Orlando sees the tragedy both as a terrorist attack AND a hate crime against gays.

President Donald Trump did not come, nor did he send any White House or Cabinet delegates or surrogates to Orlando. He did not make any proclamations, though he did tweet, including a picture montage of the 49 murder victims.

“We will NEVER FORGET the victims who lost their lives one year ago today in the horrific #PulseNightClub shooting. #OrlandoUnitedDay.” Trump announced on Twitter Monday.

Rubio also sent his tweets — three of them.

“One year later, we honor 49 of our fellow Americans of @pulseorlando and continue to pray for their families.” Rubio tweeted, and “The #PulseNightClub tragedy was rooted in a hateful ideology that has no place in our world. #OrlandoStrong,” and The #PulseShooting was an attack on the LGBT community, Florida, America, and our very way of life. #OrlandoUnitedDay”

U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis, Bill Posey and Daniel Webster, who each have districts that are not quite Orlando but close enough to include Orlando suburbs and many who were deeply affected by Pulse, did not make any Orlando appearances.

DeSantis put out a statement, and Webster mentioned Pulse in a Facebook post. Both focused on terrorism, a true angle to the tragedy, but one that continues to divide along partisan lines, as neither made any mention of the attack being on Orlando gays.

“The massacre at the Pulse nightclub represented the face of evil in the modern world. Fueled by a putrid ideology, the terrorist indiscriminately killed dozens of innocent people, forever devastating their families and loved ones. Orlando rallied in response to the attack in a remarkable fashion. It is incumbent on our society to root out radical Islamic terrorism from within our midst,” DeSantis wrote.

“Today, we remember the 49 innocent lives tragically lost due to a horrific act of terror in Orlando one year ago. Our prayers continue to be with the surviving victims, loved ones and all those affected,” Webster wrote on Facebook.

Scott also signed a proclamation on Friday, declaring Monday as Pulse Remembrance Day, surprising some in Orlando with his clear acknowledgment — lacking in some previous statements — that Orlando’s LGBTQ community had suffered mightily and needed acceptance.

Other Republicans followed the same pattern of DeSantis and Webster, ignoring the LGBTQ hate crime angle.

Attorney General Pam Bondi tweeted, but did not come to Orlando.

“Today we honor those lost in the #Pulse attack & the citizens & first responders who ran toward danger to save lives.” Bondi tweeted.

Agricultural Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam both put out a statement, and tweeted, but did not come to Orlando.

“On the anniversary of the Pulse attack, we pause to remember the 49 victims who were suddenly and senselessly taken, their loved ones who continue to mourn and heal, and the first responders who put themselves in harm’s way for their fellow Floridians without hesitation,” Putnam wrote. “We also remember how Orlando, the Central Florida community and the entire state came together amidst such tragedy. People stood in lines for hours to donate blood, generously gave their time and money to total strangers and worked together to meet the needs of all those impacted. This anniversary is not just a solemn milestone to remember those we tragically lost, but it’s also a reminder of the strength, courage and compassion of the people of Florida.

“My prayers to all family, friends & loved ones of the 49 victims who were suddenly and senselessly taken one year ago today,” Putnam tweeted. And then, “And to the 1st responders in Orlando who put their own lives in danger to help others in need, TY for your strength, courage & compassion.”

Ron DeSantis criticizes Donald Trump’s balk at moving embassy to Jerusalem

Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis criticized President Donald Trump‘s announcement Thursday that he would not immediately be ordering the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

DeSantis is one of more than 100 members of Congress who had sent a letter to Trump early this year urging him to keep to a campaign promise and immediately move the embassy to Jerusalem, which is Israel’s choice for a capital, but which also has been disputed and split territory between Israelis and Palestinians since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Earlier Thursday, Trump signed a waiver under the Jerusalem Embassy Act and delayed moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The White House issued a statement declaring the act should not be considered a retreat from Trump’s support for Israel, and that he still intends to move the embassy, as a matter of when, not if.

DeSantis, of Ponte Vedra Beach,  said it is long past time.

“Fifty years ago, the liberation of Jerusalem during the Six Day War reunited the Jewish people with their historic capital city. Israel’s stewardship of Jerusalem has been tremendous and has included guaranteeing religious freedom for Christians and Muslims as well as Jews – something that was nonexistent during the city’s Arab occupation,” DeSantis declared in a statement issued by his office.

“Yet, Israel is the only nation in the world where an American embassy is not located in its chosen capital city,” he continued. “It is long past time that we rectify this error and locate our embassy in Jerusalem and it is deeply disappointing that the President has decided not to do so.”

His January 11 letter, which he led, urged Trump “to take swift action to relocate our embassy to Jerusalem as soon as you take office.” It was also signed by 99 other Republicans, including Florida members Gus Bilirakus of Palm Harbor, Carlos Curbelo of Kendall, Brian Mast of Palm City, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, and Ted Yoho of Gainesville.

 

Darryl Paulson: Will 2018 bring no change or a political tsunami?

Sometimes political change comes slowly, one drop at a time. That was the 2016 Florida congressional election where Democrats gained a single seat, although the opportunities were everywhere.

Sometimes elections result in a political tsunami, where the political landscape is fundamentally altered, and one party replaces the other party as the dominant political force.

The 2010 and 2014 midterm elections created a tsunami where Republicans wiped out a substantial Democratic majority and won political control of the House.

What will 2018 bring?

Republican gains in 2010 and 2014 were due to Democrat Barack Obama in the White House and the negative public reaction to Obamacare. Now, with a Republican in the White House who has far lower approval ratings than Obama and with the Republican House voting to repeal and replace Obamacare with something that has little public support, will it be the Republicans who get washed away?

Charlie Cook just released his Partisan Voting Index (PVI) which found that only 72 of the 435 congressional districts were really competitive, with a PVI of less than +5 Democrat or Republican. In other words, most districts are safe.

Larry Sabato estimates that 141 congressional districts are safe for Republicans, and 135 are safe for Democrats. That means that 276 of the 435 districts, or 63 percent, are safe. Only 159 districts are competitive, and Republicans hold 100 of those seats and Democrats hold 59.

The following is a quick rundown of Democratic opportunities in Florida in 2018. The seat offers retiring Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is the top priority for Democrats. The seat has a +5 Democratic advantage, and Clinton defeated Trump by 19 percent. The district has trended Democrat by 6.2 percent over the past four years, the sixth greatest swing nationally.

Quite frankly, the seat is a Democratic seat held by Republicans.

The next target is Carlos Curbelo in neighboring Congressional District 26. Curbelo represents a district which has a +6 Democratic PVI and one that Clinton carried by 15 percent. Curbelo’ district has trended Democrat by 4.5 percent over the past four years.

Fellow Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart in Florida’s 25th Congressional District does have a narrow Republican PVI of +4, but it has trended Democrat by 5.6 percent over the past four years, the 10th greatest swing in the nation.

Other Republicans on the Democratic target list include Republican newcomer Brian Mast in District 18, who won the seat previously held by Democrat Patrick Murphy. Murphy gave up the seat in his unsuccessful bid to win the U.S. Senate seat held by Marco Rubio. The district has a +5 Republican PVI.

Republican Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District is another Democratic target. The district has a PVI of +7 Republican, but DeSantis narrowly won in 2016.

Finally, Democrats have made Republican Vern Buchanan in Florida’s 16th Congressional District as their second highest priority on the hit list. Buchanan has had only one serious challenge, and that was in his first race against Christine Jennings. Buchanan won by 369 votes.

Sarasota Republican Party Chair Joe Gruters claims that “the Democrats have zero chance of winning this seat.” Keith Fitzgerald, a former challenger of Buchanan, argues that the Democratic Party wants “qualified candidates in place in advance of a wave election.”

Will 2018 bring a tidal wave to the Florida political landscape, or will it be another status quo election?  Stay tuned.

Navy Veteran Andrew Learned the latest Democrat to file to challenge Dennis Ross in CD 15

Hopeful of a wave election next year, Democrats are targeting several GOP-controlled congressional districts in Florida for 2018, but the 15th Congressional district seat held by Lakeland’s Dennis Ross so far is not one of them. Not yet, anyhow.

However, don’t tell that to Democrats in the district, which encompasses parts of Polk, Hillsborough and Lake Counties. They think that Ross’ vote in support of the American Health Care Act and his championing of Donald Trump’s causes make him extremely vulnerable in the next election cycle.

“A lot of people (just) think he’s a Republican, that he voted for the AHCA – no, he was the Republican Majority Whip who literally got the votes for that, ” 30-year-old former Navy veteran and Valrico-based businessman Andrew Learned said last week in Tampa’s Oxford Exchange, a day after he officially filed to run for Congress. “He’s the architect of that. That is his baby.”

Learned also notes how Ross served on Trump’s transition’s team, “the transition team that knew about (Michael) Flynn and didn’t do anything,” he says referring to the president’s first pick for National Security Advisor who resigned and is now the subject of investigations for his business dealings with foreign entities. And the Democrats charges that “Ross is “one of those guys behind the curtain on all of this stuff and perfectly content not to help his district.”

Whether Ross’ role on the transition team included being asked to evaluate high level Cabinet choices isn’t clear, nevertheless it’s indicative that Learned is prepared to go hard at the incumbent as he begins his journey to first win the Democratic nomination for Congress in CD 15, where four other Democrats have already filed to run. All believe they have a chance to knock off Ross, the Polk County based incumbent who has represented Congressional District 15 voters since 2010.

This isn’t Learned’s first rodeo when it comes to running for office. He was elected student body president at the University of Tampa back in 2008, when he ran on a platform that consisted in part on changing student’s meal plans to allow for healthier food options.

That’s when Learned still called himself a Republican (albeit one that advocated for LGBT rights and voted for Barack Obama). He said that that he changed parties back in 2011 while serving in the Navy after he deducted that the party of small government and fiscal responsibility wasn’t acting that way, specifically noting the tactics that led sequestration.

After graduating from UT, Learned enlisted with the U.S. Navy, and served from 2009 to 2013 as a surface warfare officer, “a fancy title that says I drove ships,” he notes self-deprecatatingly. That stint included occasions when he led boarding teams to contend with Somali pirates.

After his initial service time in the Navy (he currently is in the Navy Reserves), he came back to Eastern Hillsborough County in 2013 and ultimately became president of GradePower Learning, a tutoring center for kids.

Learned says if elected he wants to pass policies to help the American people, but worries that Washington has become infected with partisanship, which he labels “insane.”

“It’s been insane my entire adult life,” he says, adding that there are more veterans like himself running for office, who have shown they know how to work together.

‘I’m perfectly willing to work with people across the aisle on things that makes sense,” he says, mentioning infrastructure. “I have not heard one person say we should not have infrastructure (improvements), and yet we can’t get it done, because we’re tying it too partisanship. In fact, more than 100 veterans ran for the U.S. Senate and House last November (10 were elected).

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week listed the congressional districts of Ron DeSantis and Vern Buchanan in a new group of 20 additional congressional districts that they are targeting for recruitment and potential investment.

That’s a total of  79 GOP-held districts that they’re targeting, but CD 15 is still not one of them.

That’s not stopping the onslaught of Democrats who believe that more than ever, Ross is vulnerable. Those Democrats include Cameron Magnuson, Greg Pilkington,  Ray Pena and Greg Williams.

Having just returned from a deployment, Learned says he’s trying to engage with as many voters of all stripes to learn what concerns them the most regarding national policies. But he’s cutting when he accuses Ross of being MIA for his constutients.

“Polk County is 2nd in the nation for hunger,” he notes. “That’s insane. It’s his district. Have you ever heard Dennis Ross talk about hunger, because I haven’t. Opioids? These things are wrecking havoc in his backyard, and he’s more concerned about offering tax cuts to Wall Street banks.”

Ross did vote last fall for the 21st Century Cures Act, which included $1 billion over 2 years for grants to states to supplement opioid abuse prevention and treatment activities.

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